Penn State and Philadelphia schools fight pests that trigger asthma

KITCHENER, Pennsylvania – Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects 10 percent of school-age children in the United States. In Philadelphia, that number climbs to nearly 25 percent, and in some neighborhoods nearly 50 percent of school-age children have been diagnosed.

The Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management, or PA IPM program – a collaboration between the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture – works with the School District of Philadelphia to reduce asthma triggers in school children by preventing pests, including mice , to reduce and cockroaches, from entering schools.

“Asthma can limit physical activity and is the leading cause of school absenteeism,” said Michelle Niedermeier, community IPM coordinator for PA IPM. “Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with medication and by avoiding common triggers such as tobacco smoke, mold, cockroaches, and mice. School buildings that are easily penetrated by mice and other pests could contribute to this high incidence of “asthma.”

According to Niedermeier, an asthma attack can be triggered by a protein in mouse urine. “Mice are ubiquitous; they pee all the time, so there are urine droplets everywhere,” she said. To alleviate this problem, PA IPM is helping the school district, educate staff and students about asthma triggers. They also support the district’s rodent reduction campaign through the Door Sweeper Initiative, which aims to keep pests out of buildings.

“Cockroaches and mice often come through the front door, just like us,” says Niedermeier. “If there’s a big gap at the bottom of the door, you can just walk in even though the door is closed.”

Niedermeier and her colleague Dion Lerman, a specialist in environmental and health programs at PA IPM, helped inspect the outside doors of schools and helped develop a strategy for selecting the most suitable and effective door sweepers. Lerman also created a video to teach the county facilities staff how to properly install the door sweeps. So far, the district has installed around 1,500 new door sweepers in its buildings.

“This initiative has already prevented pests from entering schools under exterior doors,” said Francine Locke, director of environmental services for the Philadelphia School District.

As a land grant university, part of Penn State’s role is to help the Pennsylvania communities implement research and best practice. “The Philadelphia School District, like many in the United States, has pest problems and children with asthma, and by providing our expertise we can help mitigate some of the risk factors. The door sweeps are a good first step to help preventing the pest from becoming a problem, “said Niedermeier.

“The Philadelphia School District learned from PA IPM that the pest control chemicals used to control pests in schools can sometimes be more harmful than the pests themselves in terms of toxicity, carcinogenicity, and respiratory irritants,” said Locke.

“Our IPM program is strategic about how we identify pests in schools, how they enter a building, the environmental conditions in schools that promote pests, and the many different county departments and operations that pests could affect by doing them Create conditions that attract them, ”she said. “The support and technical guidance from PA IPM has been extremely helpful in guiding our district towards healthy and safe ways to prevent and control pests in schools.”

In addition to building the partnership with the school district, PA IPM works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the American Lung Association through the Pennsylvania Asthma Partnership, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Community Asthma Prevention Program, and other agencies to address asthma -solve related problems.

These efforts are aimed at fulfilling World Asthma Day’s mission: to promote the identification of allergens and irritants that can lead to asthma attacks, and to create asthma action plans to minimize these irritants with the aim of raising awareness and supply to improve from asthma. World Asthma Day was celebrated on May 3rd this year.

To learn more about IPM in Philadelphia, visit the PA IPM website.

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